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REVIEW: Is the Distribution of alpha-Tocopherol in Membranes Consistent with Its Putative Functions?

P. J. Quinn

Department of Life Sciences, King's College London, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NN, U. K.; E-mail: p.quinn@kcl.ac.uk

Received April 30, 2003
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and stabilizer of membranes. Other functions of vitamin E unrelated to its effects on membranes are emerging. Vitamin E partitions into the lipid bilayer matrix of membranes. It orients perpendicularly to the plane of the membrane with the hydroxyl group pointing to the lipid-water interface. The vitamin is not randomly distributed in the plane of the membrane but tends to form clusters. These clusters appear to be composed of vitamin E and phosphatidylcholine in a stoichiometry of about one vitamin E per 10 phospholipid molecules. Vitamin E partitions into domains of phosphatidylcholine in model membranes formed from mixtures of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine irrespective of whether the phosphatidylcholine is in the fluid or gel phase. The creation of domains enriched in vitamin E in membranes is not consistent with an antioxidant function and effects on membrane structure and stability indicate other roles of the vitamin.
KEY WORDS: alpha-tocopherol, phospholipid-vitamin E complexes, X-ray diffraction, membrane structure, lipid domains